The difficulty of being a teacher in today’s time

It’s not easy being a teacher in the 21st century when the Internet has comppletely transformed the learning process for everyone
File(Hindustan Times Media)
File(Hindustan Times Media)
Updated on Sep 04, 2019 08:42 AM IST
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ByVenguswamy Ramaswamy

It’s not easy being a student today. The expectations of growing into a professional well-capable of handling a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) workspace is insurmountable. For all our good intentions, we can’t really stop our students from feeling that pressure. But if you think about it, being a teacher in a VUCA world is not any easier. The 21st century is all about equipping oneself with skills that will enable us to easily adapt to all the challenges this VUCA world throws at us. And to prepare our students to be able to handle all of that complexity, we must first prepare our teachers. Our teachers are the only hope for us to prepare the students for the 21st century. Our aspiration is to develop the gems of tomorrow, today with our teachers.

So, how do we prepare ourselves to be 21st century teachers, for the millennial generation of students? A generation that’s characterised by their dwindling attention span and their rising tech-dependence? The simplest way to do that is, meeting them where they are most comfortable.

The days of monological teaching are on the decline as learners respond better to collaborative and engaging interplay. . Let’s explore five key roles a 21st century teacher must take on to be able to achieve that.

An Adaptive Mentor

‘One size fits all’ no longer holds true. Mass personalisation is the keyword in the current education industry. According to the ‘multiple intelligence theory’ propounded by Howard Gardner, there are eight different kinds of intelligence. It is not necessary that each child in a class will exhibit the same level of competency in each of these eight kinds! One might be spatially more intelligent, while another might show linguistic expertise. A 21st century teacher must be adaptive enough to meet each child at their space of intelligence and take it up from there. But it does not end there. A teacher must also be adaptive enough to embrace the changing dynamics of education. Instead of depending solely on textbooks, a teacher should be able to infuse lessons with new and fresh ideas. Talking about steam engines does not cut it anymore, because this generation of students will never be able to identify with it. Instead, how about discussing electronic vehicles, since that’s much more immediate and contextually relevant for today’s students?

Try the flipped classroom method, where students do the actual learning at home, and the classroom is used as a safe space to engage in discussions, provocations of minds.

A Digital Dabbler

No, it does not mean that teachers need to be tech-nerds. But a little bit of technological know-how can go a long way in establishing deeper bonds with students. In an age when entire campuses are making the shift to digital, a teacher who shuns technology will only succeed in alienating the students. 21st century teachers also need to be able to differentiate between bad addiction and good addiction. Screen-addiction is something that bothers every parent today. As a 21st century teacher, one has the power to channel that screen-addiction into an addiction for learning. Leveraging the wonders of the technological world to kindle a child’s curiosity to go above and beyond classroom learning is where a 21st century teacher must excel.

To push learning beyond the classroom walls, encourage your students to join global communities on social media. Be it a photography community or a cyber-security one, a global learning ground exposes them to varied cultures, languages and politics.

An Enabler of Experiences

The current buzzword is ‘experiential.’ A virtual tour of the Amazonian forest will have a bigger impact than a written paragraph about it. Young minds need stimulating experiences to retain concepts better and longer. It follows naturally that mentors have to plan lessons where they engage the senses, and organize practical demonstrations. Being hands-on is a key skill that teachers of the 21st century must demonstrate. Another side of the coin is activity-based learning. If you are thinking excursions and field-trips, you are on the right track. But a 21st century teacher will go beyond and make sure that students are not just learning, but also applying that knowledge, analysing it and finally interpreting it to create new concepts.

Instead of asking them what they want to become when they grow up, take them on a picnic and encourage them to approach random people (of course, under your supervision) and ask them about their professions. They can quiz people on the pros and cons of their jobs, about how they made their career decisions and what factors influenced those decisions. This way, they will develop a better understanding of various career options.

A Lifelong Learner

There’s no denying that students today learn more from the internet than from textbooks. In such a situation, a 21st century teacher should be ever-ready to be left stumped by their ingenuous queries. You see, children today have access to more information than a teacher can wrap her/his head around. Thus, a 21st century teacher needs to be a learner, who learns alongside the students. And not just alongside, but also from the students. A teacher has gone from a sage on the stage to a guide by the side. It’s now time to take on the role of a learner in the pit.

Come up with a topic that’s in the syllabus and encourage your students to research the topic by going on the internet, while you do the same. Share notes and build a project together. This will also help them learn to differentiate between authentic information and misinformation, because the internet is full of it.

A Facilitator of Pride

Educators all over the world have been harping on how important it is to let students take the lead of their learning. That way, students own their learning. How can a 21st century teacher make that happen? By giving them a chance to take pride in their learning. With collaborative learning and sharing platforms becoming the norm, it is super easy today for students to share their work with peers and also the world over. When ‘practise assignments’ travel beyond the teachers’ desks and takes on a concrete shape as their very own creation, students learn to take pride in their learning.

Instead of asking them to write an essay, ask them to write a blog, add pictures, polls, opinions etc. Instead of asking them, ‘How do plants produce their food?,’ ask them to make a ‘how-to’ video on the same topic. So that, once the lesson has been learnt, their assignments do not just end up in a waste paper basket, but they can share it online and take pride in their creation.

To conclude, a 21st century educator is an aware global mentor, who provides a safe and encouraging space for young minds to ask questions and helps them make use of the right channels to look for the answers. It’s time we all come to terms with the fact that with information being available at the click of a button, the teacher’s job is no more about dispensing information. A 21st century teacher is all about preparing students to consume and interpret the readily-available information effectively, to best suit the generation’s collective interest.

The author is Global Head, TCS iON

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022